Written by: Gretchen Pressley
with Monica Higgins and Lisa Du Bois Low
Will Rogers sits atop his favorite roping horse, Soapsuds. The statue stands 9’
11’’ tall and weighs over 3,000 pounds. Photo by Artie Limmer.
The man responsible for inciting excitement on campus before football games is often
seen wrapped in red crepe paper or sporting a crisp bronze ensemble for everyday
Kodak moments with graduating seniors.
But unlike the Masked Rider
and Raider Red
, this 3,000-pound symbol of school spirit has a hard time making a personal appearance
at football games.
Will Rogers and his horse, Soapsuds, immortalized in a nearly 10-foot tall statue
(9’ 11” to be exact), stand just inside the entrance to the campus on East Memorial
Circle. The statue’s inscription reads “Lovable Old Will Rogers on his favorite horse,
Soapsuds, riding into the Western sunset.” And Lovable Old Will has surely found
a permanent place in the hearts of all Red Raiders.
“I think when you see the statue wrapped in red that first Friday of the football
season, it gets you so energized,” said Chris Snead, associate vice president of
the alumni association. “You know it’s time for the games to start.”
Who was Will Rogers?Will Rogers
was a famous stage humorist and trick roper in the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Oklahoma,
Rogers spent time branding cattle on the Waggoner Ranch
in Vernon, Texas. In the 1930s, he became familiar with Texas Tech through Fort
Worth Star-Telegram publisher Amon G. Carter
, his friend and first chairman of the Texas Tech board of directors.
After speaking at a Lubbock school auditorium on October 29, 1926, Rogers discovered
that Texas Tech wanted to bring its full 90-piece band to the game against Texas Christian
University in Fort Worth the following Saturday and lacked only $200 of having the
neccessary funds. Rogers donated the $200 because, according to the Fort Worth Start-Telegram,
" Rogers wants Fort Worth to see a 'real West Texas band' and hear some real West
Rogers was killed in a plane crash in 1935. At the time of his death, Rogers was
the nation's most widely read newspaper columnist, in the form of his daily "Will
Rogers Says" telegrams and in his weekly column; his Sunday night half-hour radio
show was the nation's most-listened-to weekly broadcast; and he had been the nation's
#2 movie box office draw in 1933 and #1 in 1934, ranking 2nd at the time of his death
only to Shirley Temple.
The outpouring of national grief at Rogers' death was said to be the greatest such
national mourning since the death of Lincoln. Among the many tributes to his memory
is the Will Rogers World Airport
in Oklahoma City named in honor of Rogers' love of travel.
“The irony of Will Rogers is that he died in a plane crash and they named an airport
after him,” Snead said.
Honoring a Friend
Electra Waggoner Biggs, a nationally known sculptor, was best known
for her life-sized bronze "Into the Sunset" commissioned by Amon G. Carter after
Rogers' fatal airplane crash at Point Barrow, Alaska in 1935.
: In 1959, the president of Buick Motors named one of their luxurious
Buick models "Electra
"Into the Sunset," originally commissioned in 1936 by Carter, stands in front of
the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth. The life-sized bronze was created by noted
sculptor Electra Waggoner Biggs
whom Rogers met during his time on the Waggoner Ranch.
To further honor his friend's memory, the Amon G. Carter Foundation
donated an exact replica of Rogers and Soapsuds to Texas Tech in 1947.
“This statue will fit into the traditions and scenery of our great western country,”
Carter said at the dedication ceremony of the memorial held on Feb. 16, 1950. “Will
Rogers felt at home in the Lubbock area. His statue is a befitting monument to your
students and faculty.”
Two other castings of Biggs' original work stand at the Will Rogers Memorial in
Claremore, Ok., and at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas.
“When Texas Tech went to the Cotton Bowl a couple of years ago, fans who stayed at
the Anatole actually 'painted' the local Will Rogers statue red,” Snead said.
Into the Sunset (or Not)
According to legend, horse and rider were to be faced towards the west, placed
on what was then known as “Soapsuds Pavilion East Memorial Circle.”
However, this placement resulted in the posterior of the horse pointing towards
the center of town. This caused such an outcry from the townspeople that the entire
statue was supposedly rotated 23 degrees to the east, aiming the horse’s rear toward
“The rear of the horse does face A&M,” Snead said. “I don’t know if it was done on
purpose or by accident. But as far as I’m concerned, it was done on purpose.”
Will Rogers and Soapsuds are dressed and ready for the game. Photo by Artie Limmer.
Despite its unusual commentary on a fellow Texas college – or perhaps because of it
– Will and Soapsuds have become an integral part of school spirit during football
season. Beginning in the 1950s, the statue has been routinely "dressed" in red the
Thursday evening before the big game in a ceremony called "Paint the Campus Red."
Today, the Saddle Tramps
keep the tradition alive by wrapping Old Will before every home football game.
“It takes 10 guys about two and a half hours,” Snead said. “They use about 20 rolls
of red crepe paper. When they are done, they circle Will and sing the Fight song
and the Matador song. Then they decorate the rest of the campus with streamers and
Rogers and Soapsuds have also been wrapped up in black crepe paper to mourn tragedies
such as the death of Waggoner Biggs, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and to
commemorate Sept. 11.
More Featured TraditionsCamping, Red Raider StyleRaider Red Revealed!President’s SelectLighting up a Texas Tech Tradition
Andrews, Ruth Horn (1956). The First Thirty Years: A History of Texas Technological
College 1925-1955. Lubbock, Texas: The Texas Tech Press.
Rushing, Jane Gilmore (1975). Evolution of a University. Austin, Texas: Medrona
Center for Campus Life
Davis, Alvin. Retired Administrator of Ranching and Heritage Center.
Story produced by the Office of Communications and Marketing
Photo of Electra Waggoner Biggs courtesy of Waggoner Ranch